NAWABSHAh/ISLAMABAD  - At least 24 people, most of them students, were killed on Wednesday near Nawabshah when a school van first collided with another passenger van and then with a heavy truck head on.

As many as 21 girls and boys— aged between six and 16 years –, their two female teachers and the van driver were killed on the spot.

The ill-fated van was bringing the students of private Bright Future School of the nearby Daulatpur town back from Nawabshah, around 270 kilometres north of Karachi in Sindh province. There were around 40 people on board.

Doctor Hashim Langa, chief of the government-run Civil Hospital in Nawabshah, said the hospital had received 21 dead bodies out of which 19 were children. Apart from the dead, some 15 to 20 injured were also brought to the hospital, seven of whom were in intensive care and neurological wards, he added.

Police said that they were trying to locate the driver of the loaded dump-truck who had fled the scene. Senior police officer Asif Ali Pechuho said that the school van had been so badly wrecked that rescue workers had to use tools to extract bodies.

The accident occurred at Qazi Ahmed link road. “It was a head-on collision when the truck slammed into the school van on a single track dirt road. Apparently, speeding and recklessness resulted in the accident,” Abdul Rahim Gopang, a police officer, said by telephone from near the accident.

Pakistan has one of the world’s worst records for fatal traffic accidents, blamed on poor roads, badly maintained vehicles and reckless driving. According to eyewitnesses, the accident was a result of wrong overtaking by the school van carrying around three dozen students.

“It was a massive accident as the bodies were torn into two to three pieces. Various bodies were beyond recognition as their faces were badly crumbled and charred”, A B Qadri, the head of Edhi rescue team told reporters.

Television channels showed footage of parents running into the hospital, frantically looking for their children. Eleven children were injured and being treated in hospital, said Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon. Appeals for blood donations for the injured were issued from the loudspeakers of mosques.

MNA Faryal Talpur announced compensation of Rs0.5 million for each deceased child and issued directives to provide best treatment to all injured passengers. She said that those responsible for the accident would not be spared and get exemplary punishment.

Meanwhile, President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed their profound grief and sorrow over the road accident in Nawabshah that resulted into loss of precious lives including several schoolchildren.

In his condolence message, the President while expressing his heartfelt sympathies with the bereaved families prayed to Almighty to grant courage to those families to bear their losses with fortitude.  The President also called upon the concerned authorities to provide best medical assistance to the injured.

The Prime Minister in his message expressed his shock over the unfortunate incident that claimed the lives of innocent children. He condoled with the bereaved families and prayed that Allah Almighty grant them courage to bear the loss.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari alsos expressed deep grief and sorrow over the traffic accident.

Zardari, in a message, said he was saddened with the news of accident and his heart goes out to the parents of the children who were killed in this tragedy.

He prayed to Almighty Allah to grant courage to the bereaved families to bear this irreparable loss and eternal peace to the departed souls. Zardari asked Sindh government to look after the grieved families and provide best care to the injured.